Outside, the Swede walks through the blizzard into town, following a line of barren trees. The town seems totally deserted, and the storm makes it impossible to imagine anyone surviving on such an inhospitable and violent earth; men are “lice” clinging to “a whirling, fire-smitten, ice-locked, disease-stricken, space-lost bulb.”
The barren and deserted environment of Fort Romper reflects the Swede's extreme isolation, and also foreshadows his imminent death. Crane's philosophical note about men being “lice” clinging to a violent earth ties into the story’s broader theme of fate and helplessness; in a way, the violence of existence seems inevitable and far beyond men’s reach, yet men try desperately to cling to it anyway.
Finally, the Swede finds a saloon. The light above the door is red and makes the snow “blood-colored.” The Swede comes in and orders a class of whiskey, which he drinks in one gulp. The bartender asks him if he's had a bad night, because of the blood on his face. The Swede says no, adding that the night has been “good enough for [him].” The bartender then asks about the blizzard, and the Swede says that the weather “suits him.”
The red light on the saloon door and the “blood-colored” snow foreshadow the Swede's imminent death inside the bar. It is important that the Swede associates himself with the blizzard, which symbolizes chaos, at this point in the story—this suggests his fear and paranoia have caused him to spin out of control. This chaotic behavior will eventually bring about the Swede's death.
The Swede begins to boast about beating Johnnie Scully in a fight at the blue hotel. The other men in the bar, including a few merchants and the gambler, take notice of him. The gambler is a particularly strange character, respected by people in the community because he is a family man, despite the fact that by trade he is a swindler and a criminal. Though the gambler is accepted by people in town because of his “exemplary home life,” there are some restrictions on that acceptance; he isn't allowed, for example, to join the local men's club.
The Swede immediately alienates himself from the other bar patrons with his story about fighting Johnnie, who is a local and therefore likely to draw the sympathy of the crowd. By building this tension, the Swede seems almost as if he is actively trying to bring about his death, which he foretold earlier in the story. This scene also introduces the gambler, whose social acceptance underscores the importance the town puts on appearances; the Swede has been alienated because he has, in contrast to the gambler, failed to outwardly behave according to social norms of propriety.
The Swede becomes angry that the other men in the saloon won't drink with him because he was boasting about fighting Johnnie. He gets up to start a fight. The gambler encourages him to sit down, talking calmly despite the Swede's aggression. The gambler says to the Swede, “My friend, I don't know you.” The Swede then grabs the gambler by his throat, and in response the gambler pulls out a knife which “shoots forward” and stabs the Swede. The Swede falls with a cry of “supreme astonishment.”
Again, the Swede's feelings of loneliness and isolation cause him to lash out, which leads to violence. The gambler, meanwhile, makes it clear that the Swede is alienated by asserting that he doesn’t know him. The description of the knife “shooting forward” as if on its own volition demonstrates that the gambler is not really guilty of the crime but is only a means to carry out a fate that the Swede has brought upon himself. Whether the Swede is actively at fault for his own death or simply succumbing to fate is left up for debate by the story, though his astonishment at being stabbed suggests he did not entirely expect his own demise.
The other men run out of the bar, and the bartender looks shocked. The gambler cleans his knife and calmly tells the bartender to tell the police that they can find him at his house. The bartender leaves the Swede's body on the floor, and goes out into the storm in order to find help “and company.” The Swede's dead eyes are fixed on the sign on the cash register which reads, “This registers the amount of your purchase.”